For the first time, US scientists have achieved a fusion reaction with net energy gain. But the dream of limitless zero-carbon energy is still a long way from reality.
Video timeline: 00:00 – What powers the universe 01:04 – ITER: the biggest experiment in human history 04:28 – What is fusion? 06:38 – Replicating the sun 08:38 – The US breakthrough 13:46 – The investors 20:40 – A new class of magnet 24:30 – Dream or reality?
The FT’s Simon Mundy meets scientists and investors in the UK, France and US, to see how close we really are to commercial fusion power.
A selection of three essential articles read aloud from the latest issue of The Economist. This week, Europe’s crisis of energy and geopolitics, how crypto goes to zero (10:19) and the consequences of America’s success against organised crime (16:32).
DW Documentary – Energy is life – these days, Europeans are experiencing that first-hand. For far too long, Europe has depended on coal, oil and gas imports from around the world. Not only have these fuels been driving the climate catastrophe, but they also serve as a dangerous bargaining chip for geopolitical interests.
Energy is essential — and it is a major problem. The war in Ukraine has shown just how dependent Europe is on fossil fuels. This has weakened Europe and given export countries – frequently governed by authoritarian rule – a geopolitical means of leverage. Now, war on the European continent has eclipsed concerns over the climate Crisis. The increased consumption of harmful fuels is creating economic and political problems.
Yet, against the odds, decarbonizing Europe remains a widespread priority, and alternative solutions are already available. In France, Denmark and Ukraine, civil initiatives are taking energy supplies into their own hands and investing in the joint production of their own solar energy. In some cases, privately produced solar energy has proven much cheaper than what national solar energy providers offer.
These initiatives show that decentralizing energy production could be the key to transforming our energy supply. Poland still depends heavily on coal, but is offering re-training programs for employees in the mining business to help them transition to green jobs. An estimated one million such green jobs are expected to be created in Europe by 2030. Green hydrogen, currently still in the development stages, could be a sustainable and profitable alternative for industries in the future.
Across the continent, workable alternatives are emerging. The current quick succession of political crises has now joined the ongoing climate crisis to show just how important it is to act now.
In the beginning, there was energy. Everything since then, has been an exercise in transforming energy from one state into another – food becomes labour, gas becomes electricity, fossil fuels become architecture.
In this month’s keynote essay, Barnabas Calder writes: ‘In the millennia before fossil fuels, the circular economy was the only economically viable way to operate’. Recognising that architecture is formed from the fuel we extract to create and sustain it could be a transformative way of thinking about our built environment.
This issue seeks to make visible the often obscured links between buildings and the energy sources they are built from, and around.
Nuclear projects are getting a boost of investment as countries try to tackle an energy crisis sparked by the Ukraine war, while also pursuing emissions targets. WSJ looks at how start-ups say their alternative designs can help solve past issues.
For some, nuclear power may conjure images of mushroom clouds or bring back memories of disturbing nuclear disasters like Chernobyle and Fukushima. But despite public fear around nuclear power, the technology has proved to be an emission-free, reliable way to produce large amounts of electricity on a small footprint.
As a result, sentiments about the technology are beginning to change. Both the U.S. government and private companies including X Energy, NuScale and, Bill Gates-backed, TerraPower are pouring money into developing, what they say will be smaller, safer nuclear reactors. CNBC visited Idaho National Laboratory to see the Marvel microreactor firsthand and learn what such developments could mean for the future of nuclear power.
After humankind discovered nuclear fission, the first applied use was the atomic bomb. The study of fission for electricity production came later. In December 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave his fateful Atoms for Peace speech, an impassioned plea to reconstitute the power of the atomic bombs dropped in World War II for a more noble cause.
“Against the dark background of the atomic bomb, the United States does not wish merely to present strength, but also the desire and the hope for peace,” Eisenhower told the United Nations. Almost 70 years later, the tension between those end uses still underlies the space today. From the 1950s through the 1970s, the United States dramatically increased its nuclear energy generation.
But the Three Mile Island accident in 1979 and Chornobyl meltdown in 1986 changed the landscape, spurring fear that nuclear energy could not be controlled safely. Since the 1980s, nuclear energy capacity and generation in the U.S. has largely stayed flat. Today, the country’s fleet of nuclear power reactors produces only 19% of the country’s electricity, according to the government’s Energy Information Administration.
In more recent times, the Fukushima Daiichi accident in Japan in 2011 — and earlier this year the capture of nuclear power plants in Ukraine by invading Russian forces — have added to public concerns. But despite its fraught origin story and the psychological effect of high-profile accidents, nuclear energy is getting a second look. That’s largely because nuclear energy is clean energy, releasing no greenhouse gasses.
Meanwhile, the world is seeing more of the effects of climate change, including rising global temperatures, increased pollution, wildfires, and more intense and deadly storms. “We need to change course — now — and end our senseless and suicidal war against nature,” Antonio Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations, said in Stockholm on Thursday. “There is one thing that threatens all our progress. The climate crisis. Unless we act now, we will not have a livable planet,” Guterres said. “Scientists recently reported that there is a 50-50 chance that we could temporarily breach the Paris Agreement limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius in the next five years.”
On Sept. 5, 2021, for the first time, a large high-temperature superconducting electromagnet was ramped up to a field strength of 20 tesla, the most powerful magnetic field of its kind ever created on Earth. That successful demonstration helps resolve the greatest uncertainty in the quest to build the world’s first fusion power plant that can produce more power than it consumes, according to the project’s leaders at MIT and startup company Commonwealth Fusion Systems.
It’s been hailed as fuel of the future. Hydrogen is clean, flexible and energy efficient. But in practice there are huge hurdles to overcome before widespread adoption can be achieved.
Video timeline: 00:00 How hydrogen fuel is generated. 02:04 How hydrogen fuel could be used. 02:46 Why hydrogen fuel hasn’t taken off in the past. 03:40 Is hydrogen fuel safe? 04:31 Hydrogen’s advantage over batteries. 05:00 How sustainable is hydrogen fuel? 06:13 Why the hype about hydrogen may be different this time.